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198 × 129 × 12 mm
184 pages
30 illustrations
01 Mar 2012
Critical Lives

John Cage Rob Haskins

John Cage’s contribution to twentieth-century music, literature and art not only established his place as a leading figure in the post-war avant-garde, but also guaranteed his enduring controversy. His emphasis on chance, as opposed to intention, rejected traditional artistic methods and caused uproar amongst his peers. The shock provoked by pieces such as 433 still reverberates today, as Cage’s radical approach to art and aesthetics continues to challenge and inspire artists worldwide.

In his new biography Rob Haskins considers John Cage’s life, art, ideas and work, evaluating the twin pillars of Cage’s creative output and the ideas that lie behind it. Demystifying the artist’s use of chance, and his relationship to Zen Buddhism, the book explores Cage’s belief that everyday life and art are one and the same. John Cage will appeal to musicians and artists, as well as general readers interested in the art, music and ideas of the twentieth century.

‘this excellent biography by Rob Haskins sweeps away any possibility of Cage being considered a joker. It illuminates the composers life and work and makes emminently clear the intellectual underpinning and circumstances of his multivarious activities . . . This compact volume has plenty for the layperson and devotee alike. It is well laid out and the references and bibliography are excellent. The story of Cages life is fascinating and Haskins tells it well, clearly explaining the developments of the maverick composers musical ideas.’ — BBC Music magazine

‘Haskins does a fine job of dealing with Cages many facets his use of chance and thoughts about the ego and individualism, his flair for populism, his poetry and visual art in much the same way he handles the Buddhist element: he deals with them intelligently and succinctly and then moves along . . . Haskins does a laudably thorough job. Its a quick, intelligent, and quite readable book.’ — New Music Box

‘Rob Haskin . . . shows, with an often lovely turn of phrase, how brilliantly and profoundly musically Cage was able to apply Zen to the process of writing music.’ — Los Angeles Times

‘[an] excellent introductory volume for the Reaktion Critical Lives series’ — TLS

‘the narration flows extremely smoothly, and the book is a good and enjoyable read . . . Haskins gives us deep insights into various aspects of Cages oeuvre, not only the musical works, in the narrow sense, but also the literary and poetic examples of his aesthetic thinking, as well as his numerous visual art objects. In addition to a chronicle of the composers life and artistic output, the reader also learns a great deal about how this music might sound . . . what Haskins does here is remarkable, and will definitely be appreciated by at least two potential target groups of readers: both the lay person someone who might be interested in music, or even someone who might have always wondered: What is this Cage guy all about? Is there more to him than just 433 ? and students of music, musicians, or musicologists with very little knowledge of Cage, his ideas, and his music, will get a clearer idea about the musics sonic qualities, the soundscapes they create, and which reactions they might foster.’ — Clemens Gresser, Notes

‘[Haskins'] book is part of Reaktion Books Critical Lives series and is a miracle of concision. A mere 180 pages, the book not only tells the story of Cages eventful life but also explores the composers use of chance, his interest in Zen Buddhism and the I Ching, his painting and his writings. Haskins deals with each in a deceptively easy manner. On closer inspection, his discussions are clearly distillations of wide knowledge. References, internet links, exhibition catalogues, bibliography and select discography are all impeccably managed . . . Coming to Cages output for the first time via Haskins would be an informative and life-enhancing experience. For those of us who came in altogether more random a fashion (surely Cage would have approved?), Haskins would have saved us a lot of time.’ — Tempo

‘There is a lot more to commend in this publication. Its distinctive quality comes from the authors intimate knowledge not only of the vast amount of Cage scholarship, or of the equally vast quantity of scores and sketches, but also and especially of Cages works as sounding phenomena. The works discussed are carefully selected, and Haskinss observations are clearly enriched by listening experiences concerts and recordings . . . an informative and entertaining read for both a wider audience and the musicological specialist. By virtue of its critical and demystifying stance, this new John Cage biography is likely to convince even readers who are sceptical of the genre of biographical writing.’ — Music and Letters

‘Haskins style is pleasingly crisp and transparent the complexities and subtleties to which Cage sometimes seems to adhere are always clearly explained yet without simplification. Where examples help to explain, they are chosen . . . an ideal introduction and companion to the work, thinking and to some extent the influence of a composer whose place in music is still being assessed. Recommended.’ — Choice

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Rob Haskins is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator in the Department of Music at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and has been involved with John Cage’s music as both a scholar and a performer for almost twenty years. He is the author of Anarchic Societies of Sounds: The Number Pieces of John Cage (2009).

1. Becoming
2. Audacity
3. Non-attachment
4. Eminence
5. Doyen
6. Parting

Select Discography
Photo Acknowledgements